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Thursday, December 13, 2018

"Kitty" or When Will I Ever Learn?

A lot of my time with Janey is spent doing what she calls "Snuggle on Mama's Bed".  It's in fact her bed, not mine, but we do snuggle.  Generally, we just lie there next to each other and talk.  Or I talk, and sing, and tell stories, and read books, and so on, and Janey smiles and laughs.  She talks very little, most of the time, but she's very happy to just be there together.

Sometimes, this snuggle time can start to feel like a one man show.  It's a very well received one man show, but still, at times I feel like I'm running of material, and I wonder if it really makes a difference what I say or do at all.

Last night, after a good long time snuggling, I said to Janey "You know, I know in your mind you are thinking a lot of things, and listening to what I'm saying, and maybe wanting to ask me things, but you aren't saying them out loud.  I can't hear inside your head.  I can only hear things you say. I love to hear you talk.  If you said 'Kitty' right now, I'd be very, very surprised and happy!"

Some background---Janey loves me to act surprised.  I'll often go through pretend emotions while we're cuddling, saying that I'm going to show happy or sad or angry, but her favorite is always surprised.  I'll ham it up, opening my mouth wide and waving my arms around.

For a few minutes after I talked, Janey just looked at me with a huge smile.  And then she quietly and sweetly said "Kitty!"

Of course, I played it up---a huge show of surprise.  She smiled her huge, wonderful smile.

And then, as I so often do, I had to push her.  I said "You know, if you said the name of one of your brothers, I'd be VERY VERY surprised!"

I hate it when I do that.  And I'm always doing it---looking for just a little more, trying to force Janey to prove again what she just proved, what I already know, that she's almost always listening and understanding what I say, whether she shows it or not.

After I said the brothers line, I saw the look that breaks my heart, the look that shows she's shutting down.  Her eyes lose their glow, and look away.  She looks not happy but instead tense, worried.  She sees that now we aren't playing a fun game, but instead are in the midst of quiz time, testing time.

We stayed there cuddling for maybe ten minutes more, and she never did say "William" or "Freddy".  I made myself stay quiet.  Finally, I said "William and Freddy!  That's the names of your brothers!"  But still, she had the tense look.

Why do I do that?  I KNOW she knows her brothers' names.  I KNOW she listens to me.  Why do I have to get it proven to me, at the cost of her happiness?

And of course this relates to the problems with ABA type programs.  They are all dependent on the child having to prove over and over and over and over that they do know what they know.  In a way, they seem especially designed to torment kids like Janey.  I don't think all kids with autism are like Janey is, in her strong negative reactions to being quizzed, tested on what she's already shown to know, but I think a lot of them are.  Once Janey knows something, she knows it.  She's shown over and over that she doesn't forget anything.  But she's not always going to perform on demand.

I'd like to say I'll never make the mistake I made last night again.  I'd like to think I've learned, and I'll stop pushing her to re-prove she is listening.  But I will probably do it again.  I'm a slow learner, and I don't always remember what I've learned, unlike my sweet girl.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Vision Statement

When talking to a friend today about IEPs, we hit on the topic of vision statements.  I had noticed that IEP meetings often start with us being asked what our vision is for Janey's future.  I had thought that was just kind of a warming up question, but in reading a bit, I realized it's required in some states, and used in most.  Here's a link to an article about it.

That got me thinking.  I don't think I've ever planned an answer to that question, which is probably because I don't spend a lot of time thinking about visions for the future.  Maybe that's just me.  Someone once asked me what I had wanted to be when I grew up, and I thought about it and realized I never really had an ambition.  I figured life would happen as it's going to happen, and it has.  That's not all good, of course, but I don't think it's all bad, either.

But what IS my vision for Janey in the future?  I made myself think about it today.  It's tough, because my mind likes to think up scary scenarios.  It goes to places that certainly aren't my vision, unless it's some unbid vision from some dark places.  And maybe that's my problem, the word vision.  A vision is something that seems to be to be given to you.  You don't read poems or old literature about PLANNING a vision.  You GET a vision. 

But if I try to plan a vision, a quote keeps getting in my way, one that I remember hearing for the first time and thinking "Well, that's the most insightful thing I've ever heard"  It's been attributed to various people, but I'll pick John Lennon, and it goes "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"  There are so many variables, so many surprises, so many detours, that life really is what actually happens, as we plan for a different life, one we never actually live.

Okay---all that said.  But still, I want to try to have a vision. 

Here it is, the honest one, what I really do want for Janey.  I want her to live with Tony and me, until we are gone, until we die or are too sick to care for her.  I want those years with us to be happy years.  I want her to have as much agency as she can over her own life.  I want her to make choices as to how she wants to spend her time, and I want to honor those choices as much as possible.  I want her life to be as free from pain as it can be.  I want her to always be with those who truly love her.  I want her life to continue the best parts of now.  I want her to have car rides with Tony, to snuggle with me and sing Christmas songs together, to watch her favorite movies and dance with excitement, to ask in her sweet voice for bacon or coffee or soup or tomatoes and get them.  When we are no longer able to care for her, I want her to live with one or both of her brothers.

I don't feel like that's what I'm supposed to say.  I think I'm supposed to want more independence for her.  I think there's supposed to be some kind of sheltered work in there.  I think I'm not supposed to rely on her brothers to take up her care.  I think I should include skills like using money, or riding buses, or doing dishes.

Fear hits me here.  Right now, with Janey going to school, I feel able to trust her time away from us is safe and meaningful.  And maybe that could continue, with a group home or a day program or something else for autistic adults.

But something haunts me.  It's a remark by the adolescent specialist we've been seeing, to try to figure out a few physical differences in Janey's development.  At the end of a good appointment, she said "Well, we do want to start Janey soon on something to prevent pregnancy"  And although I should have heard enough to not have been knocked flat by that statement, I was, indeed, knocked flat.  Even though many years ago, Janey's psychiatrist put it more bluntly, telling us "She WILL be abused"  What kind of world do we live in, that because Janey is non-verbal and sweet and beautiful, she WILL be abused?  NO.  NOT ON MY WATCH.

But of course, that isn't my only fear.  Tonight, as I wrote this, Janey was using her iPad.  Or trying to.  YouTube wasn't loading.  Her talking, after some good stretches, is at a low point right now.  And she is tired---her early to bed genes are strong.  So she said nothing.  I was distracted by writing when I thought she was watching videos, while instead, she was endlessly touching a link that didn't work.  A small thing, but somehow it brought up thoughts of her not being understood, of wanting the small things she wants and not knowing how to communicate them, of her either crying in despair or even worse, just silently trying and trying and never getting what she is trying to get.

I have more thought about this, but this is dark enough already.  I'll try to salvage some good from this thought exercise.  The purpose of asking for a vision is, of course, to prepare for that vision, to know what needs to be done to make it come true.  How can we prepare for our true vision---Janey here with us, happy and living a meaningful life?

We can teach her how to access the things she enjoys, like movies and videos and music.  We can work on simple food preparation more, so she can fix herself the meals she loves when she wants them.  We can keep her healthy, free of physical pain as possible, free of mental torment as much as we can.  We can work on coping skills for her for things like waiting, so that half hour she sometimes has to wait for a ride doesn't lead to tears.  We can try, although this is a hard one with our current finances, to prepare for when her brothers care for her, to leave her somehow or other a trust.  We can arrange our house and our lives to give her what she needs and still preserve enough of what Tony and I need so we are all happy, not burnt out.  See---this vision planning works a little!

I have a bigger vision, if I really work at it.  It involves not just Janey, but the whole world of Janeys.  It's a vision of a world that includes people like her, that keeps them safe while giving them full lives.  It's what we've been lucky enough to find in schools for Janey, extended life-long.  I don't see that world happening any time soon, but I can plan for that vision, too.  I can keep talking about Janey's life and her needs and wants and talents.  I can vote for politicians, regardless of the ugly partisan world today, that understand special needs.  I can push in the small ways I am able for a future that better matches the hopeful plans we make when we love our children like Janey.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Mystery of the No Sleep Nights

My mother is a huge fan of mystery series books, like the Nancy Drew or the Judy Bolton ones.  The title pays homage to that, and to the fact sometimes life with Janey can feel like a long series of mysteries.  One of the biggest ones is why sometimes Janey simply skips a full night of sleep.

Overall, sleep is not one of the biggest issues we usually face with Janey, at least not compared to a lot of kids with autism. (knocking on wood here, of course!)  She goes to bed fairly early, usually somewhere around 7 or 7:30, and gets up early, about 6.  While she's asleep, she barely moves, and we can usually be as loud as we want to around our small house without waking her.

However, once in a while, probably 10 times in her life, Janey has just plain skipped a night of sleep.  When this happens, she doesn't sleep at all.  Not one wink.  And almost always, the next day she isn't particularly sleepy.  It's like for that one night, she just didn't need to sleep.

I don't have seven clues, but I have a few!
This happened most recently Thanksgiving night.  Janey was not in a good mood for Thanksgiving.  November is often one of her tougher months, and she'd had a fairly rough week.  There was a lot of screaming that day, so we were looking forward to a night's break.  But she just never went to sleep.  Tony stayed up with her until about midnight, then I took over.  The funny thing was that she was much more cheerful during her normal sleeping hours than she was the day before or the day after.  Although she wasn't sleeping, it was like she was in a different mode than regular daytime.  She was up until 5 pm on Black Friday, then went to sleep and slept all night.

What do we do all night on a no sleep night?  Mainly watch videos.  I could insist that we turn off the TV, but I know that would do no good.  Believe me, I've tried, and believe me also, once you get a ways into a no sleeping night, you do whatever you have to do to get through the night.  When Janey is watching videos, I stay right near her on the couch and struggle to keep my eyes open, and change videos when she needs me to.  Sometimes she asks for a ride or a shower, but in a mild way.  She seems to know what she can do in the middle of the night and what she can't do.

There isn't much of a pattern to these no sleep nights.  Sometimes they happen when she's in a good mood, sometimes bad.  Sometimes she seems manic, sometimes there is no sign at all she won't sleep.  Sometimes we realize she's had chocolate after noontime, which disrupts her sleep badly.  Sometimes she has eaten nothing out of the ordinary.

As I often do lately when trying to figure Janey out, I think of what any teenage girl of 14 would be doing.  Although I think my sleep at that age was pretty regular, of course sometimes I stayed up late.  This was usually when spending the night at a friend's house.  I know there were lots of nights that I was up until 3 or 4 am laughing hysterically with friends, probably discussing who had a crush on who for hours on end.  Maybe an occasional late night or no sleep night is just something Janey needs, to break up the routine a bit.

Another theory I have is that the no sleep happens when Janey's brain is working on processing something new.  Lately, we've noticed her talking is on an upswing.  We've been hearing some longer, more complete sentences---for example, instead of saying "Go to the store!"  she might say something like "I want to go for a car ride to the store" or "I want to get salami at the store"  This isn't all the time; it's still pretty rare, but it's nice to hear.  She has also been reversing pronouns a bit less.  One night she wanted a shower, and I said "I'll give you a shower in a minute" and she said "You give me a shower in a minute"  which surprised me quite a bit.  Maybe when her brain is making new connections, it's hard to sleep.

When the nights happen rarely, as they do, we can manage it, especially now that Tony is retired.  But if they ever started happening on a regular basis, like more than once a week or even once a month, it would be very hard to take.  Janey needs to be watched at all times.  I think about parents who have kids with much more severe sleep issues than Janey, and my heart goes out to them.  It's a case where I have to hold myself back from saying what I myself don't like to hear---"I don't know how you do it"---because I do know how you do it.  You do what you have to do.  You scrape by.  You drink a lot of coffee and take naps when you have a moment's respite.  You live with a sleep deficit.  But I know it's not easy.  As I write this at 8 pm, Janey is fast asleep, and I hope everyone reading this gets a good night's sleep---if not tonight, some night soon!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Visiting High Schools

Although it's extremely hard to believe, Janey will be in high school next fall.  And so we have been doing visits to the high schools in Boston with an autism program.  It's been interesting.

We've visited three schools so far.  There's another program which is in a building that is closing this spring, and the future of it is unsure, so we haven't visited there, and there's a few other specialized programs we haven't seen, such as the high school part of the inclusion school Janey used to go to.  But the three we've visited are the three main choices we have right now.

To start with, I'll say that at all three schools, I was impressed with the dedication, talent and caring of the teachers, administrators, aides and other staff I saw.  That has been the case almost universally as we've been involved in the Boston public schools for the last 21 years with our three kids.

However, there were rather huge differences between the programs we visited.  This is another hallmark of the Boston schools---the uneven distribution of resources and the way it always feels like each school is a world unto itself, with little feeling that any school really gets what another school in the very same district is doing.

The complex map of Boston schools!
The first school we saw was very close to us---we could walk there.  It was in an old building that in fact Tony's 3 siblings went to high school in (he's the baby of the family by 13 years, so their high school years were a while ago!).  The building had been totally renovated, and was strikingly clean and orderly.  The program was in the lower level, and had 4 main classrooms.  We saw all the classrooms, but at the time we looked, none of them had students in them.  I guess that's not that uncommon a state of affairs.  The woman giving us the tour said that some students in the program are actually fully integrated, others are away at work sites almost all the time, and some are working at places within the building.  That was a bit of a theme there---work.  The program seems mostly set up as a pre-vocational one.  The students, once they are 18, actually get paid for their work, and they do all kinds---car washing, catered meals, recycling and others, in and out of the building.

We did see the students eventually, in the gym shooting baskets.  We got to talk to a few of them.  The ones we talked to were quite a bit more verbal than Janey is, and although we were told there are a wide variety of students there, I got the feeling most were probably more academically and spoken language oriented than Janey.

We asked about electives like music and were told there are none at all, at least not formally.  Aides do provide informal electives.

We left feeling that Janey would be safe there, but not that it was really the place for her.  I somehow couldn't quite picture Janey there.  She isn't interested in or really aware of money, she certainly wouldn't be into shooting baskets, music is too huge a part of her life to not have any music at school, and overall, it just didn't feel like a match for her.  But it was a good program, and I think would be just right for many kids.

The second school was in a very, very run down building, in the heart of the city.  It was, quite frankly, a dump.  The classrooms for autistic kids were again in the cellar, in 2 crowded rooms.  The room for the older kids, especially, was very crammed, mostly taken up by a large setup for serving sandwiches, which is the main activity for older students.  The hallways were claustrophobic, in my eyes anyway.

However, the teacher of the room full of younger students was great, just highly gifted as a teacher.  The students were doing their morning meeting, which they pretty much ran themselves.  Each student said good morning to every other student, in verbal or non-verbal ways.  They discussed the weather, said the Pledge of Allegiance and talked about current events.  The students were at widely varying levels of speech, and some that didn't appear to speak verbally went up to the board and wrote down things with perfect handwriting and understanding.  It was an impressive class to watch.

In some ways, I could see Janey at that school.  However, in a lot of ways, I couldn't.  It was sad to see how little had been done to make the school a nice place for the kids.  There seemed to be very little for the students to do when they were older (special needs students go to school until they are 22, generally)  Again, there were no electives.  I asked about kids being paid for work, and they don't have that program and seemed only a little aware of it.  It's not that I want Janey to work a paying job, but it's an example of the variation between schools.

We would not accept a placement for Janey at that school, we decided.  It was too crowded, too chaotic in the halls, and somehow just felt a little unsafe---with nothing taken away from the teachers, who were great.

And then the third school.  This one was VERY far from us.  It took us about an hour to drive there, and to get there, we had to go through several other towns than Boston, although it's in Boston---just at one extreme end of the city and we are at the other extreme end.

However, the program there was GREAT.  It's our clear choice.

They had us there pretty much at hello, as the directer giving us the tour said "First we'll show you the students and classes, and then the students will all be going to music and dance, so you can talk to the teachers".  They have music and dance!!

There were four classrooms in the program.  The students move from room to room, like regular high schoolers.  We saw many students, working at many different tasks.  In general, the students seemed to be academically much like Janey.  Many seemed to not speak verbally, or speak verbally just a little.  Some seemed to have multiple challenges, like being in wheelchairs.

The teachers all seemed very dedicated, and there were many aides.  One room at first didn't have students in it, and the teacher said they were in the greenhouse.  A greenhouse!  That made me so excited!

The students have swimming at least twice a week, and on Fridays, most students go offsite to various places.  There are various opportunities to work within the building, although again, they aren't paid---not an issue.

It's hard sometimes to say exactly why one program seems right, but this one did.  We could see Janey there, absolutely.  The fact there is music, even if it was just that alone, is a HUGE factor.  The distance---not ideal.  But Janey loves to ride the bus, and with Tony now retired, if we needed to go get her, we could (I couldn't do the drive---I just don't drive much, and not in complicated areas like needed for this drive, but Tony can!)

So---we know what our first choice will be.  I very much hope that is where Janey is placed.  If not, I think we are ready for a fight.  We've never really fought for much for Janey at school, mostly because we just haven't had to.  We've agreed with most decisions made.  And from what I've heard, usually you can get into the program we liked, partly because not everyone wants that far away location.  But with the one program possibly closing, things could change.  We are ready to be advocates.  It's not my favorite thing to do, but we've both decided that Janey WILL attend that program.

I'd be very curious to hear from others about high school decisions (or any school choice decisions).  I know most places don't have as many choices as Boston.  Growing up in a rural area, the only school choice at that time was take it or leave it.  We are lucky to have options here, but it can feel a bit nervewracking.  I wish Janey could just stay where she is, but life does keep moving.  And next year, it will be moving Janey on to high school.  Wow.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The start of the next part

Since I last wrote, a big change took place in our lives.  Tony retired from work, 30 years to the day after starting federal employment.  He is 56, so this is a fairly early retirement.  Having him retire early was a huge decision, mostly for financial reasons, but it was the right decision, I am quite certain.

On the day Tony retired, a thought kept running through my head---"The hardest part is over now".  That's where the title of this post comes from.  Of course, I knocked on wood, and of course I know that there are still going to be many tough parts of life.  But from now on, there are two of us to care for Janey.

The smile of a man 5 minutes into retirement!
About a week after Tony retired, I looked at him and realized he truly looked about 10 years younger than he had for the past few years.  Mothers get all the glory and sympathy often in this special needs parenting game, but it's hard to overstate all Tony has done over the years.  Especially the past few years, he was working a job that was extremely stressful.  He woke very early every morning, helped me get Janey off to school, went to work all day, came home, took over with Janey usually, took her for car rides and made her supper, then had to go to bed when she did so he could get up and do it all over again.  He often went days without any time to himself, save maybe his time on the train.  He did all this while dealing with a serious health condition (severe type 2 diabetes---he's been insulin dependent for many years).  Tony's brother lives upstairs from us and is increasingly disabled from the complications of diabetes also, and Tony helps him a lot too.  When Janey didn't sleep, often Tony didn't sleep, and there were so many days I simply didn't even know how he got through the day.

Financially, retiring this early is not going to be a piece of cake, but that isn't something we find nearly as important as our health and happiness.  As long as we can eat, have health care and have a roof over our heads, the rest is gravy.

I've often thought of how in cartoons, characters run off cliffs, but keep going along just fine until they realize they have gone off the cliff.  That's how a lot of our life the past few years has felt.  Not everything is within the scope of what I write about here, but suffice to say we've been running on fumes a lot of the time.  Despite Janey being our joy, our delight, despite her being far happier than she was during some darker years for her, the demands of special needs parenting are always there.  That is something it can be hard to explain to those who haven't lived the life, and can be seen as a complaint, as something I shouldn't mention because I should only emphasize the joy.  But I want to speak the truth here, and the truth is that it's hard.  It's very hard.  It's very hard having a child that will never, ever care for herself, that needs supervision that realistically only we as parents can safely provide when she is not in school, 24 hour, 7 day a week supervision, and that this will be forever.  I know my dying thought will be of Janey, of her happiness and safety.

And so we start the next part.  The next part has been good, so far.  It's the little things that are the most surprisingly special.  On the 2nd day Tony was home, after Janey went to school, after a long night when she didn't sleep well, we went back to sleep after she got on the bus.  We slept in until 10.  We woke up astonished.  It was the first time ever we have slept in together.  Ever.  Last night, we stayed up to see our beloved Red Sox win the World Series.  We didn't have to think for one minute that we should be getting to sleep.  We knew we could rest a bit today.  Those kind of moments are worth the change in income.  They are the kind of special small things I think our new life will include a lot of. 

And most importantly than anything, it's wonderful to see the joy having Tony home gives Janey.  Afternoons when she got off the bus were always a very tough time.  Now, Daddy greets her, and right away cooks her whatever she wants to eat.  Together, they blissfully eat things I wouldn't touch---fried eggplant, steamed greens, tuna salad---and Janey dances around with happiness. 

Here's to you, Tony.  We made it to the next part.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"I hate you, Mama!"

Yesterday after school, Janey got off the bus cheerfully, and I was determined to keep her that way.  We snuggled, I gave her each snack she asked for, a shower when she requested one, and then I put on the shows she wanted.  And changed the shows when she changed her mind after a second or two.  And again.  And again. And again.  Then the phone rang, a doctor's office wanting to set up an appointment, so I couldn't instantly change the show.  I managed to get the call done over Janey's increasingly loud requests.  Then I said "What show do you now?"  I do freely admit my voice had a hint of annoyance in it.  I wasn't yelling, I wasn't openly angry sounding, I don't think, but I didn't sound patient.

That was enough for Janey to get furious.  She screamed, bit her arm and spilled a bottle of soda on the floor.  I made her help me clean it, and then put on the show she wanted, which she instantly turned off, glaring at me.

Then she said her favorite new phrase.  For background, I'll say that one day when she was very angry and lashing out, I told her she needed to tell me how she was feeling in words, and I gave her a lot of example phrases---"I'm angry at you, Mama!  You made me very mad!  I don't like what you did!  You aren't listening to me!"  And then, because she learns through hearing phrases and I don't want to censor her, I added "I hate you, Mama!"

Well, she ignored all my other suggestions and went right for that last one.  Since then, she's been using it often.  Sunday night, she screamed it in fury so Tony could hear it a house away.  And yes, that is what she said yesterday.  "I HATE you, Mama!  I HATE YOU SO MUCH"

I was proud she added in that last part of the phrase herself, despite the sentiment.  I said "It's okay if you feel like you hate me right now.  I love you anyway.  Sometimes people do feel like they hate their mothers, and other times, they feel like they love them".  Just so she was clear where she stood at the moment, she said "feel like you HATE your mother!"

I have to admit---I kind of liked the idea that having an autistic, low verbal teenager might mean that I would escape some of the teenage drama.  It seemed like I had, at first.  But lately, I am reminded that in so many ways, Janey is like any other teenager.  She has times when I annoy her and anger her to the point she can barely take it.  I get that.  And I know how that might be even harder to deal with when you aren't able to fully communicate what you want all the time, and when you spend a lot more time with your mother than most girls your age.

We're seeing more signs of Janey growing up lately, and we are realizing more than ever how much she understands without being able to fully show her understanding.  In the last month, Tony and I have both noticed how much she monitors everything we say, especially actually when the conversation is not directed at her.  She is quite an eavesdropper.  We can be chatting away, and somehow say something about going someplace, and she is instantly next to us, saying "Shoes on!  Go for a car ride!"  Or we are talking about food, and she runs over and adds her two cents worth---"Go to the store.  I want salami"  or "Pizza!  I want pizza!"

It's hard, because much more than actual words, Janey picks up on tone and mood. Contrary to many beliefs about autism, Janey is better at sensing moods and tone of voice than anyone I know.  The slightest hint of argument or sadness or even when we take a serious tone in a conversation gets her very upset.  And the opposite works---if she's upset, we can sometimes make her happy by talking to each other in an upbeat way and laughing (but it has to be sincere laughter---she knows the difference)

It can be easy, even for parents like us with quite a few years now of autism parenting experience, to fall back on some of the silver lining thinking about autism, thinking things like "At least she's always be our little girl!  At least she's spared from adult worries!  At least she doesn't want to purposely make us upset!"  But thoughts like that aren't fair to Janey.  They make her less than---less than a full, complex person.  We need to always keep in mind Janey's age.  She is growing up.  She's going to be angry at us, sometimes.  She is growing in understanding, even if we don't always see the growth day by day.  We need to adjust our thinking, to treat her with respect, and yes, to teach her to treat others with respect.  It's not always going to be easy, but not much about this whole gig is. Nothing worth doing usually is.

Friday, September 28, 2018

For new readers of the blog, or seasoned readers that want an overview!

Hello, and welcome to my blog!  I've noticed a lot of blogs provide an introductory post.  After 10 years, I thought it might be time for me to do the same!

This blog is mostly about our daughter Janey.  She is now 14, and she was diagnosed with autism when she was 3 years and 3 months old.  Our family also consists of my husband Tony (age 56), myself, Suzanne (52), our son William (24), who now lives in Chicago after finishing grad school and our son Freddy (21),  who is a senior in college, and our two cats, Tommy and Merg.

Here's a little about Janey today, and our road to today.

Janey, at 14, is an amazing person.  She's got a personality that draws people to her, a sense of humor, a smile that melts hearts, a talent for and love of music that is amazing.  She is also what would generally be termed low-functioning.  She talks in phrases or single words, and in scripted language from videos.  She doesn't read, write, draw, do math.  Her academic skills are at a toddler level.  She is semi-toileted trained---enough to wear underwear to school with few accidents but not enough to wake up dry most of the time.

Janey was born after a very difficult pregnancy and labor.  She was colicky, but not quite as much as her brother Freddy had been, she would never nurse (I pumped milk for a year) and she didn't walk until she was 2.  However, the one thing that we didn't think was an issue during her first 3 years was autism.  She talked a lot, she was outgoing and engaging and funny.  I remember so well at her 18 month appointment with her pediatrician how he said "Well, one thing we don't have to worry about is autism!" as she tried to engage him all during the time he was examining her brother.  She had early intervention for her motor delays, but never speech therapy from EI.  They discharged her at 3 without referring her for further special ed. services, and we agreed.  The last time her physical therapist saw her, she remarked on how interactive and funny Janey was.

I cry sometimes when I recall those early years.  I have videos of Janey's speech I can't watch to this day.  That is because around the time she turned 3, she stopped talking almost entirely.  She stopped interacting with us.  She stopped smiling.  By the time she was fast-tracked for an evaluation and was diagnosed with autism, it was not a surprise. We already knew.

This blog is not one of those that writes about miracle cures, or amazing breakthroughs.  I wish I could, but Janey in many ways has not made progress from the time of her heartbreaking decline.   Her talking has at no point regained the level it was at when she was 2.

However, I like to think this blog can be one that inspires hope.  There have been dark times with Janey, but today, she is happy, most of the times, and we delight in her, almost always.  The breakthrough we've had is more one of acceptance, but that's not a strong enough word.  It's one of learning to embrace what Janey is, rather than mourn for what she isn't.  I am not a Pollyanna.  There are still many parts of this autism parenting gig that are hard, and most likely will always be hard.  But life with a child like Janey can be a wonderful life.

How did we get to today?  There are many, many little things, but two very big things that I believe led us to our current way of thinking.  Two hospital stays, both during the year Janey was 10, one for psychiatric reasons, which included a stay in a psychiatric hospital, and then, a long hospital stay that involved a burst appendix and many, many complications from that event.  We realized several things from these stays.  One is how little help society is prepared to offer children like Janey with anything but strictly medical issues, with the notable and important exception of the public schools, and the other is how much we treasure Janey---how the very real chance that existed of her dying from her medical emergency made us realize that nothing on this earth was more important than her (and our sons) life, health and happiness.

My purpose in writing this blog is threefold.  First, I want to write about the experience of having a daughter with autism as honestly as possible.  When I was starting out, that is what I craved to read---accounts that told the truth, without an agenda or a bias.  I've tried very hard over the years to be as honest as I could, while respecting Janey's and other family member's feelings and privacy.

My second purpose in writing was to try to find a community.  I felt so alone at first.  It felt like no-one else in the world was living my life.  Gradually, more and more over the years, I met so many wonderful other families, mothers and fathers and children like Janey and siblings like my sons.  I started a Facebook page to further those connections, both for myself and hopefully for others to meet families travelling a path similar to their own.

My third purpose was totally selfish.  I need a place to write about Janey, because writing has always been my way of coping.  When times got tough, or when wonderful things happened, my first thought often was "I want to write about this!"  It has helped me so much over the years to have a place to vent, to cry, to rejoice, to share.  It's also helped me to remember what events were actually like, by being able to look back at what I wrote while going through them.

It would take anyone a long time to read this whole blog from start to finish!  I haven't even done it in full for a while.  So I'm going to put some links here to posts that I think most illustrate points along our way, if you want to get a condensed tour through the last 10 years.  Or jump in anywhere, and if you like, join the Facebook group!  Thanks so much for reading.

Posts to get your started

I put this post first, out of chronological order, because I think it might be the most important post I ever wrote---a heartfelt plea for everyone about how physical pain might be shown very differently in a child with autism than in typical children.  It was written after we almost lost Janey when her appendix burst...

Autism and Appendix Pain

This post isn't one of my better written ones, but it's about a day that's often stood out in my mind as the last day for many years I took Janey out and about alone.  Her behavior that day was scary, and it was the start of some tough times...

The bad McDonalds trip

Here's a post where my pediatrician at the time talked about various labels that might apply to Janey...

Janey around age 5
Talking about labels

An example of the early dark days, when I didn't think anyone read the blog and I was realizing how little help was out there...

Dark Day

When I started thinking about medication, causes and a depressing report I got..

Long Week

A preview of how hard it would be to get good medical diagnoses for Janey's physical illnesses...

Doctor's Appointment Rant

A day I remember as a turning point, when I realized we just couldn't go on as things were...


My reaction to a phrase we as autism parents often hear...

I don't know how you do it

My anger over the summer program the first year Janey went...

Summer Program

One of the many sleepless nights!

Sleepless Night

My fantasy idea for what would REALLY help

The autism center

A post from the thankfully fairly short-lived extreme mischief phase..

Dennis the Menace was a slacker

Details about the drug allergy I truly feel is a leading contender as to what caused Janey's autism..


A day I remember as the start of the 2nd very tough period of Janey's life...

CVS Hell

Going against the general stereotype...

How autism has made me a worse mother

Why I haven't written a book, kind of!

The books I can't write

Why we stopped using the only respite we've ever gotten...

A tough decision

Janey and chocolate...

Why I don't discount anyone's theories

The heartbreaking decision to take Janey out of the inclusion school...

When inclusion is no longer working

The first post in a series about Janey's psychiatric hospitalization..

A Whole New World

Freddy's writing on the rudest people we ever met..

Rude People 

Letting myself be bleak...

Don't read if you are new to autism

The first post about Janey's burst appendix and long hospital stay...

Part One about the Appendix...
Janey now, at age 14

A switch to a new doctor, which should have been years sooner..

The New Doctor

One year after the health crisis, and the start of our new attitude..

One Year out

The first best weekend ever---we've had more since then!

The Best weekend ever

What it's like at our end of the autistic spectrum

Janey's end of the spectrum

How life is now, and it's not a bad life!

Reflecting on progress at the Whole Foods

So there's my probably too long list of posts that stood out to me.  It was hard to choose, and a different day, I'd have chosen a different list, but this list might give you some ideas where to start.

Wherever you are on your journey with autism, I wish you the best.  Please know you aren't alone, ever.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

How Janey would tell the bus story

The start of this school year was marked by bus issues.  The buses that Janey had assigned to her did not have aides on them, and several times, the morning bus simply drove by our house as Tony tried desperately to wave it down.  He wound up driving Janey to school those days.  The afternoon bus twice drove her home without an aide, breaking their own rule (the aide for Janey is not something we requested, but something the transportation department had said she needs) and twice relied on a school aide kindly riding with Janey so she could get home.  Knock on wood, these issues seem to be resolved, thanks to Janey's terrific principal advocating for her.  Janey is on new buses, ones with aides.

I've been struggling to explain to myself and in this blog why the whole bus issue upset me so much.  Every way I tried to write about it, I found myself reading what I wrote and thinking "Yeah, that doesn't sound like such a big deal"  Then, looking at some pictures I took today, I realized that it's a big deal to me because it was a big deal to Janey.  She loves the bus.  She loves routine.  She loves things happening the way they are supposed to happen.  And the fact that it seemed, on the surface anyway, that the bus department didn't consider it a priority to get her to school, bothered me a lot. 

Janey doesn't talk verbally that much, but she talks volumes with her behavior and her facial expressions.  Here's the story of the bus issues, translated by me.  Forgive me, Janey, if I have made mistakes!

"I am so excited to go on the school bus to school!  I love riding the bus"

"Daddy and I are waiting for the bus. It's coming!  Oh, it's not stopping.  Daddy is trying to get the bus to stop.  Why can't I go on the bus?"

"Daddy is driving me to school.  I love to ride in the car, but this isn't right.  I don't go to school in a car!  Daddy is saying goodbye and I am with my teacher, but it's all wrong.  It doesn't feel right.  I'm crying because it's not the way it's supposed to be"

Not the actual bus that didn't stop, but a photographic recreation!

It is the little things, the small inequalities, the minor, not big enough to make a big deal of issues that sometimes are the toughest.  So the transportation department originally assigned Janey to a bus that by their own rules, she couldn't take?  It's fixed now, so why does it still bother me?  Because it's a million small moments like this that add up to block Janey from being fully included.  It's not just the bus passing her by---it's all the times that the small adjustments that would allow her to ride life's bus with everyone else are not made.

Janey---"Now the bus is here!  I'm happy!  I'm going to school!"

It's the little things that make Janey part of the bigger world.  Sometimes, we have to fight for the little things.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Summer Summary

If I had to use one word to describe this summer with Janey, I'd have to say "uneventful".  Not much happened.  We did very little.  There weren't many huge ups or downs.  And I guess that is mostly good, but of course, as always, I still feel like I failed somehow.  I had big plans to take Janey places this summer, to keep her busy, to plan out our days.  I should really know better, by this point.  I'm not a summer person, and to be fair to myself, it was close to the hottest summer ever in Boston, with much horrible humidity.  On the very bad days that way, and there were lots of them, I felt accomplished if we left the house and the AC at all.  But still...

What DID we do?  Freddy was home all summer, and that was great.  Most every day, we did do a walk to the nearby 7-11, the "ice cream store" as Janey calls it.  And about twice a week, we got lunch out at either Five Guys or Chipotle.  Once a week or so, we went to Whole Foods and shopped.  I had Janey help me water the garden every few days, and that turned into some fun spraying water around.  We "snuggled on Mama's bed", Janey's term for lying together on what is actually her bed, not mine, and me singing to her, reciting nursery rhymes, reading or just cuddling.  And Janey watched TV, plenty of TV. She had a lot of showers, sometimes several a day, which she loves.  In the evenings most nights, she had a car ride with Daddy. That was the summer.

Janey awaits the bus
Most of the time, Janey was fairly happy.  When she got upset, it was almost always because I couldn't do what she wanted right away, because I said she needed to wait a minute for snuggling or a shower or a walk.  That turned into one of my summer projects, getting Janey to understand and honor "wait a minute!"  I would praise her heavily for being patient for even tiny amounts of time, and I started gradually asking her to wait a minute even if I could do something right away, and by a minute, I mean a minute, or sometimes less.  I think she made a little progress with patience.

I had thoughts of working a lot on her "talker", her AAC apps.  I put three on her new iPad, but she almost always chose Proloquo2Go over the other two, including TouchChat, which is the one they use at school.  However, as I've seen in the past, Janey did NOT want me teaching her, or demonstrating for her, or basically touching the apps at all.  I honored this, because I want her to like the apps, and she does.  She often chooses to use them instead of watching YouTube Kids, her usual favorite iPad thing.  She doesn't use them for conventional conversation, but rather sort of play around with, which is fine---it's how you start learning to talk, but I wish she would communicate with them, I do admit.  Generally she'll pick two words and hit one after the other, like "play" and "read" or "happy" and "silly", and will push them in turn over and over and over and over, for up to half an hour.  She seems to delight in this.  I think she loves how it makes having a word be said an easy thing to do.  But when I tried to get her to say what she was feeling, for example, when she was screaming, she'd either push away the iPad or would always pick "happy", as if she wanted to tell me what she thought I wanted to hear.

Janey's verbal talking sometimes improves after being at home and not in school for vacations or other longer time periods.  That didn't happen this summer.  In fact, by the end of the summer, her talking was at one of its lows.  She has been saying very little at all.  As the summer wore on, more and more, she wanted to snuggle, and to have me next to her, with us looking at each other, without talking.  It seemed to make her happy, but it's a pretty passive activity, and I must admit I get bored of it after a while.

I think Janey was excited to go to school this morning.  I will say freely I was excited to have a day with her at school, where I know she is loved and cared for, and where there is a lot of things going on.  I don't regret skipping summer school this year, though.  I think Janey needed that break.  We'll try summer school again next summer, but if she needs another summer off in the future, we'll that.

I hope you all had a good summer, and I hope school is off to a good start!  Much love to all of you and to your girls (or boys!)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Reflecting on progress at the Whole Foods

At times, progress with Janey can feel glacially slow.  It can stop for long periods, or even go backwards.  However, yesterday morning during a trip to Whole Foods, I realized that Janey has made a lot of progress in the past years, and even just over this summer.

It started with the car ride, and the music in the car.  Earlier this summer, we were going crazy with Janey's constant need to have us switch songs.  We would hear about 10 seconds of a song, and she'd say "Music, please!  Music!" which meant she wanted us to go to the next song.  We decided to gradually stand our ground on a few songs here and there, just calmly saying "I really like this one!  I'm going to listen to it!"  Then after that song was done, we'd switch as much as she wanted to for a while more.  It was surprising how quickly she got used to listening to songs that weren't her total choice, and actually liking some of them.  On this ride, I played a song list of songs from the early 80s, my high school era, and Janey seems to like that era too.  She rocked out a lot and I was very happy!

Janey at the Whole Foods
At the Whole Foods, I realized as we went in that I really don't hold Janey's hand in stores any more.  She's never been much of an eloping threat.  She doesn't run away from us much.  I still always hold her hands on the sidewalk or in parking lots, as she isn't as aware of car danger as I wish she was, but in stores, she does extremely well just walking on her own.  It makes it easier for me, and more fun for her, I think.

I told Janey before we went in that she could pick out some salami.  That's her biggest treat, the extremely expensive salami rack at the Whole Paycheck.  She picked out some very thinly sliced kind that I think if you stuffed it all in, you could eat in one bite, at a cost much closer to ten dollars than five, but a promise is a promise.  And I realized she totally understands now that you have to pay and get out of the store before you eat.  We used to wait until the very end of the trip to get her treat, and then if Tony and I were both shopping, we'd buy hers separately and go right out for her to eat it, but she happily this time dropped it in the cart and didn't mention it while we shopped.

As we walked the aisles, Janey started singing "Oh Susanna"  I love to hear her sing, and she wasn't at all loud, just tuneful.  And we got looks, but not really stares.  Or maybe I'm made progress too, and I don't see things as stares.  We got a lot of smiles, and I felt proud of Janey.  I'm almost always proud of Janey inside, but this was a different kind of proud, a feeling like "Sure, she's different, but she's also so cool, so pretty, so interesting, just a neat kid"  I was on a bit of a high, just thinking how wonderful it was to be walking the store with so few worries about Janey.

We checked out, Janey still being patient, went out to the car, and I asked her if she wanted the salami in the car.  She said no, so I put it with the rest in the trunk.  On the way home, she asked for salami about three times, but each time, when I reminded her we'd have it at home and that it was in the trunk, she accepted the answer calmly.  We got home, and she ate her salami in about two seconds flat.

Janey's reserved look, like at the Five Guys
Today, Freddy and I took Janey to Five Guys for lunch.  Janey looked nervous as we got there, and said as we got out "Whole Foods?"  I said today we were going to a different place, and she didn't fight it.  She said "no" at first as we were at the door, but we coaxed her in, saying "You can have peanuts and french fries!"  She wasn't exactly thrilled to be there, no big smiles or anything, but she sat and eat and behaved.  Thinking about that, it's almost a bigger deal than the Whole Foods, that she would do that well at something she didn't prefer.  She did a whooping kind of scream a few times at the end, not her angry scream but more like a "I just feel like making noise" scream, and we reminded her to be quieter, and she listened and did.  I again noticed looks, but didn't feel they were stares.

It's been a long summer.  And a hugely hot and humid summer, a lot of the time.  But for the first summer in a while without summer school, seeing Janey the last few days, I do think there's been progress, behavioral progress especially.  It's a wonderful feeling, seeing that.

School starts two weeks from today.  I'm still keeping close tabs on that special day.  But I don't feel desperate or close to breaking, as I've felt some summers.  My Janey is growing up, and our journey together, to mutual understanding and compromise and acceptance, is marching on along with the years.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

On Janey being 14, and a day when I was 14.

The birthday girl
Janey is 14 today.  She seems to be having a good birthday.  Both she and her brother Freddy, who shares her birthday (he is turning 21), like best the lowest of low key birthdays, so for once I am totally honoring that.  No parties, no presents, just a little singing of Happy Birthday and later, a candle in a tiny cake.  For Janey, a good day means lots of rides and lots of food she likes, and lots of us honoring her most used phrase lately---"Go away!"---so she can watch her shows without our annoying presence.

As Janey gets older, I seem to do more and more comparing of her teen years to mine.  I mostly enjoyed my teens.  I liked high school, I made some great lifelong friends, I was fairly happy.  That's how it is in my memory, anyway.  I think about Janey's life and feel sad that it's so limited.  She doesn't have friends.  She doesn't do anything with anyone but family.  To her, a big day is one with a car ride and a Happy Meal.  I want more for her.

To get some real world perspective, I decided to dig up an old diary and look at what my life was actually like at Janey's age.  I didn't write anything on my 14th birthday, but I found the next entry after that, about two weeks later.  It was interesting to read.  My life was not exactly a stream of exciting events.  I wrote that in World History, we played "new games" with Jud the Jester.  Who exactly Jud the Jester is is lost to history, although I sort of remember that new games were a thing for a while, non-competitive games, but what that had to do with world history is unclear to me.  I almost fainted in Health.  I do remember that---and I almost fainted again remembering it, how we were learning about compound fractures, complete with a photo.  I watched an After-School Special.  Although I didn't note which one it was, a quick bit of research showed it was "Where Do Teenagers Come From?"  My sister Carrie had her friend Ruthie over.  That was my day.  It sounds about typical for my earlier teens.

The most interesting part was what I wrote after I wrote about the day's events.  Here it is---"There are a lot of things that happen that I don't write in my diary.  Just mostly because I want to forget them, not remember them.  Nothing awful, you know, just not remember-type things."  That hit me.  Not that I remember what those things were, so I guess not writing about them worked, but it hit me that we do edit our memories.  A lot of life is just---living.  And some of life isn't great, not for anyone.  Somehow, realizing that made me feel better about Janey's life.  It's not a typical life, but I think most of the time, she's happy with it.  If she were able to write a diary about today, or about a school day, as I did, I imagine that it wouldn't be that different than mine---what happened in classes, what she watched on TV, a few things that get stored in long term storage memory like the almost fainting, and other things that get purposefully or not kept out of memory.

Janey is not me.  She wouldn't be me, even if she wasn't autistic.  She is her own person.  She doesn't hesitate to let us know what she likes or doesn't like.  I am glad of that.  She's happier today than I remember her being on any other birthday, because she is doing the things she likes.

And so, as Freddy joins his brother William in full adulthood, I'll keep trying to give Janey the best teenage years I can---her own version of good years, not mine.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Still Screaming After All These Years

This afternoon was hellish.  There is no other word for it.  The morning wasn't any piece of cake either, but things really kicked into gear this afternoon.  It's hot as, well, hell, about 98 and humid.  Janey didn't sleep well last night, and although she slept in some this morning, we all are tired.  I left to go to my therapist about 10:45---the one time in the week that is just for me to rant, as I tell him.  As I left, Janey was screaming for a car ride.  Freddy was staying with her.  I told him if it got to be too much he could call me and I'd come right home (it's right around the corner).  He was a trooper and handled her.  When I got home, feeling refreshed from getting out of the house for once and having some time to vent, I was determined to do just what Janey needed to keep her happy.

She was no longer interested in a car ride.  What she wanted, or thought she wanted, was for me to put on shows for her and then get out of the TV room.  So I did that.  In the course of about an hour, I changed shows literally about 30 times.  Most of these times included tears from her when I didn't immediately understand what show she wanted.  As soon as the show was on, she'd say "Go away!" and point to my bedroom.  I'd go in there, and about a minute later, she'd come in with the remote for me to change the show again.  If I said ANYTHING besides a very cheerful, chipper "Of course!", she would scream---the ear-splitting scream.  One of the times I said "Okay" in a neutral kind of voice, just as an experiment, and that earned an especially loud scream.

About every third show, Janey asked me to cuddle on her bed with her.  I did.  The cuddles lasted at most 30 seconds.  And then---back to the shows, the sending me away, the asking for a new show...

You might ask, very reasonable, why I let this go on for an hour.  The answer is...I'm tired.  I tried the more measured approach the last few days, the #3 approach I mentioned in my last post.  I showed her a timer app, told her "just a minute" over and over, used "first" and "then" to explain...and it wasn't going well.  To say the least.  This morning, with my tiredness and hers, was the breaking point. Very often, just doing what Janey wants keeps her happy.  She does ask to change shows, but not at that pace.  She does scream, but not constantly.  But today, whatever haunts her brain at times was in full force.  I think it's OCD.  The changing of shows and the cuddling for a second and the fact I need to leave the room---all rituals, rituals I think she is using to try to ward off the feeling that something is off, something bad is going to happen, something isn't right.

I know those feelings.  I've had those feelings, so many times.  I am on medication for those feelings.  I understand those feelings---I have the tools and cognitive abilities to know they are a glitch, something off in my brain, a chemical mis-read.  But Janey doesn't.  To her, the compulsions, the rituals, are something that, when she's fired up, simply feel like complete necessities.  And often, doing them for a while calms her.  Not today.

After an hour, I was at the end of my rope.  I turned off the TV and suggested a shower.  That often can break the chain.  Not today.  Janey did want a shower, but she screamed all during it.  She threw my iWatch onto the floor, the watch I was given as part of the Framingham Heart Study to track my movements.  If it breaks, there will never be another one.  It didn't break, but it hit the floor hard.  Janey got out of the shower after a few minutes, still screaming.  I was feeling shaken.  I called Tony, to talk me down, which helped, but poor Tony, having to deal with a traumatized wife and a screaming daughter on the phone.  For a long, long, long time, after I hung up, Janey screamed.  I spoke to her as soothingly as I could, while literally praying for calm.  I am fairly agnostic, but you know the saying about foxholes.

And then---Janey calmed down, for now.  I put the TV on computer mode, so she could pick her own videos, which she is doing.  She hasn't asked for anything during the 15 minutes or so it's taken me to write this.  Just now she's come over and asked for a car ride.  Traffic outside is backed up outside our house to the point that getting out of the driveway even would take a while, and I can't drive when Janey is volatile.  It's too dangerous.  So, she has settled for a walk to the store.

Why do I write this?  It's not, as sometimes parents like me are said to be doing, to get sympathy.  Raising Janey is my job, and my privilege.  Sympathy is not something I need or want, not the kind of sympathy that says "Your life is so hard!"  or "I could never do what you are doing!"  Everyone's life is hard, and most everyone, if they happened to have a child like Janey, could raise them.  It's not to try to get help.  I've given up on that.  The kind of help that would actually, you know, help, doesn't exist.  Additionally, I'm pretty good at taking care of Janey, and today was almost more than I could stand.  I would not put Janey or anyone else in the position of having to try to handle this kind of day.

Why do I write about days like this, then?  I write so others living this life know they aren't the only one.  I write because the most helpful thing ever for me is knowing that there are others like Janey, other parents like Tony and me.  There are lots of people living this life.  I write because that's what I do.  I've always written---diaries, reviews, letters, postcards, stories---I'm never not writing.  I write for the same reason others volunteer time or money, or talk to their congressmen, or run for office, or do research---because it's the way I can try to contribute to others living a life with a child with autism.

But I also write for Janey.  I write because she can't.  I write because she is an amazing, wonderful person who is living a very hard life, much, much harder than I am.  She is dealing with many of the same demons I've dealt with my whole life, but without the ability to understand the tricks the mind plays on us.  She's dealing with parents who sometimes get to the end of their ropes and stop doing the things she feels need doing.  She's dealing with a world that doesn't always welcome her kind of diversity.  She's living a life that is not an easy life, and she deserves to have her story honestly told, as best as I can.  And so my title means both that she still screams, but also that I am still screaming out our story, after all these years.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Three ways of dealing with "Do what I want right this second!"

Janey's brother William is currently on an Amtrak headed to see his aunt Carrie, my sister.  He called this morning to Facetime with me, so he could show me the scenery and I could vicariously enjoy his trip.  However, Janey was in no mood for me to talk to him.  She wanted to go to the store.  She asked, and that quickly elevated to asking in a scream, and then plain screaming, and then trying hard to grab my phone away from me, and that failing, to jumping up and down in fury and biting her arm.  At that point, I told William I had to go.

This kind of scenario has happened a lot this summer.  Janey wants something.  She wants it RIGHT NOW.  She is furious not just if I have to say no, but if I say "in a few minutes" or "not right now".  I've been trying to figure out the best way to handle this kind of setup.  Here's a few of the possible ways...

1----Give in and do what she wants.  To be honest, this is what we've usually been doing for the last few years, as those who read this blog a lot probably realize.  After the horrible year that included the psychiatric hospital and then the medical hospital, both for long periods, we made a decision to make Janey's life as happy as we could by as often as we could having the answer to her wants be "yes".  It's not like we always said no before, but we had tried a more moderate approach.  The boys were younger then, and we hadn't yet quite embraces the philosophy that whatever gets us most quickly to a happy and calm Janey is the quickest route also to a happy and calm us.  Of course, there are things we can't do when she asked, but mostly, she seems to get this and just not ask for those things, like car rides in the middle of the night or salami when there is none in the house.  She asks for things she knows we can deliver, if we agree to, and we try to honor her requests.  It's worked pretty well, but this summer, it's wearing us down.  Maybe it's wearing ME down more, as this is one of the longest stretches I've had her all weekdays without any school.

2----Treat Janey as much as we can like any other almost 14 year old.  Say yes when it's reasonable, tell her to wait when she needs to wait, say no if we just don't want to give her what she wants to have or do what she wants to do.  In some ways, this was our old way of doing things.  It also goes with assuming competence, in a way.  We can assume she can learn in the natural way that sometimes you have to wait and something the answer is no.  It's what most people (especially without experiece with Janey's brand of autism) would see as the right answer.  It's what I always did with the boys, and I must say they responded well to it.  A no meant no.  They were not prone to begging or nagging.  I think I said yes often enough when I could that they learned I wasn't just saying no for no reason.  However, the 10 or so years that I tried to also use this method on Janey were, to be frank, a complete failure.  She was unhappy so much of the time, and she didn't learn, at all, what the boys  learned pretty easily---to be patient, to accept no as an answer.  We gave it a good trial.  If I thought it would work, I'd do it again. 

3---Use a hybrid method.  Accept that the way Janey sees the world and perceives the world and understands the world is not typical, no matter how much I presume competence.  But also realize that Tony and I are human beings, that we simply cannot always do what Janey wants, that the boys, although adult now, also deserve to get their ways sometimes, that we are worn down and tired out and need to figure out a way to keep going.  This hybrid method is what I'm starting to do more.  One part is not responding instantly to Janey.  Sometimes, even if I could do what she wanted right away, I say "Yes!  Just a minute, though..." and then I make her wait a minute.  I've done that approximately 10 times while writing this, the last right during the last sentence, when she asked the most common thing she asks---"Cuddle on the bed?"  Also, if she asks for something we will do in time but not for a while, I say yes and then give the timeline---for example, if she asks for a car ride at noon, I might say "Yes!  Daddy will give you a car ride when he gets home!"  He gets home about 5.  I only do that if it's something we WILL do that day---I'm not going to lie to her.  If the answer is just plain no, I say it but then offer a quick replacement.  If she asks for a ride and I know there will be no ride that day, I saw "No ride today, but we can talk a walk to the store right now!"  Or I say no and then quickly make us busy, so the no is a bit buried in whatever else we are doing.

In an ideal world, the #3 method would work.  I think it could work, not because Janey really will start to understand or accept delays or a plain no, but because waits or substitutes or distractions will become part of a routine, part of what she knows is a possible outcome when she asks for something.  The #2 method relies on an understanding of other people's needs and motives that I quite honestly don't see Janey having.  The #1 method relies on us as parents being responsive in a way that worked for a while, but that I think we are getting too old and tired to carry on, even if it did give us a few very nice years.  In reality, I don't know if method #3 will work.  It isn't working too well so far.  And perhaps there is some #4 method I'm not thinking of right now.  Whatever the solution is, or if there is a solution, as both Tony and I press further into our fifties, I think we need to figure it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A tough day and a scary news article---thoughts on respite

Today was one of those days.  Janey and I were both not in the best of moods.  I tried hard to keep her happy, and I'm sure she tried hard to be happy, but it didn't work out.  From my perspective, I spent hours doing exactly what she wanted---giving her the food she asked for, changing her TV shows, taking her for a car ride, snuggling with her---and then each time I didn't do exactly what she asked the minute she asked, she blew up and screamed at me.  I'm sure her perspective would be different, but I can only speak for sure about mine.  I felt tired, unappreciated, sick of it all.

And then I saw this news piece...  Read it here

But for the kindness of a stranger, this could have been a horrible tragedy.  As it is, it gives an answer, right there, to why I worry so much, why I sometimes give in to despair.  Here, in one of the riches countries in history, in a state with so many resources, THAT'S the best that is offered to care for people like Janey?  I have so many questions about how the man came to be alone on the very busy highway, but at the very, very least, there was some huge negligence going on, and by not reporting him for missing for as long as happened, I suspect some covering up, too.

My friend Michelle and I often joke back and forth with each other when we've had rough days (or weeks or months or years)---"I've got an idea!  Why don't you just get some respite?"  Then we laugh and laugh.  Because basically, there is next to no true respite available.  And when there is, well, that story above illustrates the fears I have of it.  It brought back flashbacks to the one respite I did try---you can read about there here if you wish.

Why is there so little respite, and why, when there IS a chance for there to be respite, or adult care, are there so many problems with it?

There's a few reasons, I think.  One is that unless you yourself have parented, long term, a child like Janey, a child with very little language who functions intellectually at about a toddler level, you don't really get it.  You might be as well meaning as the day is long, but you don't totally understand the EVERY SINGLE MINUTE part of the parenting.  There are no breaks, ever.  You can't let your attention slide.  This does two things.  Because people can't picture how all-consuming the job is, they don't understand why we NEED respite as much as we do.  And when people are hired to provide respite, or, bless them, volunteer to do respite, they often find themselves over their heads.  That was the case with the respite house we took Janey to.  They were hugely well meaning, they were well funded, they were a lovely place.  But they didn't get how much Janey (and other kids, I am sure, but I can only say for sure about Janey) needed to be watched.  

Another reason---our society doesn't value people who care for those with special needs very much.  We don't pay them enough, we don't train them enough, we don't screen them enough.  We as parents care for our children because we love them, because they are precious to us.  And even for us, it's too much sometimes.  I can't tell you how much I welcome Tony's arrival home every night, to give me a break.  I can't tell you how much I look forward to the school bus coming in the morning.  So, if someone else is caring for Janey, someone who is not her parent, I know it's a tough job.  I want that person to be well compensated, well trained and most absolutely well screened.  I want them to be valued, and to be treated as valued, but also I want them held to incredibly high standards.

The third reason is a dark one.  I truly believe most people are very good people.  But some people aren't.  And those people are sometimes drawn to people like Janey, who don't communicate well.  That is a horrible, everlasting fear of mine---that rare kind of person.  Or less evilly, some people snap when they lose patience.  Or simply tune out. Whatever happened the other day with the autistic man in the article---someone "caring" for him either did something cruel and evil, or someone lost patience, or someone tuned out.  And in cases like this, or the case of the many of us with children similar to Janey---well, there can be some very horrible endings.  Or horrible happenings that we never do find out about, because our children can't tell us.  And that, my friends, is why, even in those rare cases where there is respite, or as I look to the future, when Janey needs adult care, I don't have a lot of trust or a lot of hope.  Or a lot of answers.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Summer without summer school

A couple days ago, it occurred to me I'd barely thought about the fact that Janey wasn't in summer school.  It wasn't just that I didn't regret my decision not to send her---I barely remembered that usually she has gone. 

It's not that everything is perfect, but more that summer school always seemed to add more stress than it took away.  The first day, the bus showed up, although I'd sent back two forms saying she wasn't going, and also answered an automated phone call that way.  That shows about how organized summer school is.  The bus honked---45 minutes after the time the form I'd received (also after saying over and over she wasn't going) said the bus would get there.  I pictured the other summers, waiting out in the hot air for a bus that took forever to come, trying so hard to convince Janey not to go back inside and take off her shoes, trying to keep her calm and not screaming.  And then when she got home in the afternoon, dealing with her being very unhappy, most likely due to a program that just wasn't good.  And getting calls like the one I did last summer, from the only teacher so far I've ever encountered in the Boston schools that just didn't seem to like Janey, asking me if I had any ideas for keeping her from crying all day.  I did have an idea---and it was to take her out of summer school for the rest of the summer.  Next year, I'll try again, as Janey will be in a different program then, a pre-high school one (hard to believe).  But for now, I am quite sure I made the right decision.

What have we been doing?  Not as much as I planned to, as always.  I've tried to get Janey out of the house some every day, and mostly, we have---maybe not to exciting places, but to stores or fast food or errands.  We also do our daily walk to the "ice cream store" for chips.  We play outside after that walk.  Up until this week, Janey was napping a fair amount (and still sleeping at night).  She needs a lot of sleep, and I don't think she always gets as much as she needs during the school year, despite a bedtime of 7pm (which is her choice---not one we enforce!)  She watches plenty of videos, and we snuggle a lot.

The thing we've been doing I love the most is reading.  I've always read to Janey, of course---books are my life, and I love to read aloud to my kids.  But Janey didn't always want to hear what I had to read, or she just wanted the same book over and over and over until I couldn't take it any more.  Her teacher told me about a way she had been getting Janey to pick books and listen to them more, and I have been using a modified version of that.  I pick out three books I'd like to read to her, and ask her which one she wants.  She picks one, I read it, and then I set it aside and show her the other two, and ask again.  I read her next choice, and then lastly read the third one without asking.  Usually she doesn't want to hear all of the third one, which is fine, but sometimes she does.  Then I ask her if she wants any of them again, and often she re-picks the first choice.  Then I put the books back on the shelf.

Today I tried something new---reading her a chapter book.  I picked "Betsy-Tacy" by Maud Hart Lovelace, one of my favorite books and the start of a great series.  She listened a bit, and then did something that I loved.  She said "I want...I want...bones!  Bad!"  I knew right away what she meant.  She wanted to hear a book we've been reading a lot, "Katie Loves the Kittens" by John Himmelman.  The cool thing is that the book is about a dog, but doesn't have a bone or the word bone in it, and Katie the Dog is a little naughty, but no-one calls her bad.  Janey just picked the words to describe the book that related to it---"bone" for a dog and "bad" for how Katie scares the kittens by mistake!  It's very rare Janey forms a totally new request like that, one that shows she understood the book and wanted it enough to work hard to tell me what she wanted!

We've had our share of tough times, of course.  One day, Janey had been napping and Freddy and I were watching something on TV.  When Janey woke up, she wanted her own show and she wanted it RIGHT NOW.  I told her she could watch it when we were done, and she started screaming.  I said "You know, Janey, you are being a little selfish"  Evidently, that was not good for me to say.  Janey screamed loudly for a long time.  I gave her a shower, which usually calms her down, but it didn't, this time.  Then I snuggled on the bed with her, with some screaming still going on.  I did what a do a lot---tried to give her words for what she was feeling.  I said "You know, it's okay if you want to say 'I am very angry at you, Mama!  I didn't like what you did, Mama!' You can even say 'I hate you, Mama!''

Well, that is just what she did want to say, I guess.  She immediately said "I hate you, Mama!"  She said it like she meant it, and I am pretty sure she did.  Then she said it about five more times, in an ice cold, angry voice.

I had a mixture of emotions.  I was very glad she was expressing how she felt!  But at the same time, it was something I've never really heard from her before, and I'm pretty sure never from the boys (there seems to be less of that kind of drama with boys!)  It surprised me that I felt hurt---but that is part of being a mother, especially of a teenaged girl, and it's part of how Janey is in many ways no different than any other 13 year old, especially when they are spending large amounts of time with their mother.

Most of the time, though, Janey still seems to like me fairly well, and although some days I'm quite (extremely) glad to see Tony coming home from work so I can collapse for a while, we are getting through the summer in pretty good form.  I hope Janey would agree with me.